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Those who’ve read my review of films like Hi-Death, I Dared You! Truth Or Dare Part 5 and Hooker With A Hacksaw know I grew up on the original wave of SOV horror. And that I still love them. So when writer/director John Strysik offered me a chance to review his pretty much unseen SOV film The Spirit Gallery, I couldn’t resist. What I got though was far from the typical SOV, or any other kind for that matter, of horror film.

Gwendolyn Creed (Holly Riddle Zuniga) is a very religious young woman. She’s obsessed with the works of B. A. Catch (Jim Burkhart). She takes a job as assistant to his agent Gideon Haul (Leonard Parnell) with the hope of getting to meet him. She’s quite convinced that his “Art Of Goodness” is directly inspired by God. This being a horror movie, we can be pretty sure it’s the opposite.

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She sees Catch at a party and follows him as he takes a stroll through San Francisco’s red-light district. Gideon interrupts her before she can talk to him. Gideon does tell her that Catch needs the right model for his art to work, and he thinks she might be the one. After a series of nightmares and hallucinations, she meets her idol and agrees to be his model. She also learns the secrets of his work and their unpleasant side effects. But when he tries his hand at a self-portrait, things get truly horrific.

The Spirit Gallery is a fairly bizarre film that frequently blurs the lines between reality and hallucination. It mixes horrific and religious imagery much like Ken Russell did in Lair Of The White Worm and Altered States, but on a much lower budget. And much of what budget there was must have gone on the film’s effects.

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The scenes of bodily corruption are very realistic and nasty looking. As are a set of stigmata like stab wounds to the hands. The scenes of Catch creating the ectoplasm he uses to make his works are less involved but disturbing. And the finale, with its Society like the burst of mutations, should have gotten The Spirit Gallery some kind of distribution all on its own.

Instead, despite the effects and a director who’s credits included episodes of Monsters, Tales From The Darkside and Land Of The Lost it languished in obscurity. Even writing Stuck for Stuart Gordon didn’t get The Spirit Gallery released. Granted it would have left the average Blockbuster horror fan wondering what they’d just watched. But that didn’t stop lots of companies selling films on their effects. Or one of the small boutique distributors from picking it up.

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I’m sure the reasons why are discussed on the SOV Horror DVD’s commentary track. I was offered a copy, but given how often Canada Post eats screeners I get sent I opted for a streaming link, so I can’t be sure.

If you’re looking for a film that occupies the mid-ground in weirdness between the average low budget horror and something like Gabe Bartolos’ Saint Bernard then The Spirit Gallery would be a great choice.

The Spirit Gallery is available from SOV Horror. Fittingly enough, SRS Cinema has a limited edition VHS available as well.

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